Reality is relative. Perceptions are absolute. Life is all about the little moments.
To put it all in perspective, the changes made in those moments based on the perceptions define an individual’s reality. We are the product /amalgamation of everything we have been through and anyone who has been a part of our lives. Be it your friendly neighborhood guy or a most wanted criminal, a saint or a sinner, each one of us was born innocent. If the daily reports are anything to go by, one could say that we definitely don’t do a very good job at staying that way. Some of us tend to let go of that inherent innocence much easily than the others; the dark side is embraced and evil is born. What drives this transformation then? How does one get initiated into the dark side? The first step to find the answers to these questions is to check on our notions of evil.
The dictionary defines the word EVIL as something which is “profoundly immoral or wicked”. So it is anything which is immoral then. Well, it is not so simple. The thing is that immorality itself is defined by Merriam-Webster as “beliefs about what right behavior is and what is wrong “. The questions which arise in turn are: is the notion of right and wrong so absolute that it can be given clear-cut demarcations? Can a rigid set of beliefs contain the ideas of what is right and what is not? Privileged people might be tempted to think of it that way and more often than not, they will. To think of you as being on the right side, as a virtuous being is a rather pleasing thought. But a little introspection is enough to suggest that it is not so. Such an abstract notion cannot be contained in boundaries. And only when you acknowledge the existence of this unclear demarcation, you begin to understand evil.
Let us go back to our question now. What causes the birth of evil? Briefly it can be answered in three words.
Choices. Situation. System.
No one is born evil. The choices made in a situation where the existing system puts the individual in question in a position of power and gives him/her the ability to choose defines his/her actions. And when the burden of responsibility for the choices and the directly resulting consequences is taken away, that is when evil is born. If the perpetrator develops a self-contrived sense of justice, it gets even dangerous.
There are numerous examples involving seemingly ordinary people which support the above. Be it the HOLOCAUST or the recent GUANTANOMO BAY and ABU GHARIB torture cases involving the American army personnel, those involved in them weren't exactly your typical stereotypes for evil. Your current view-point regarding those involved in the aforementioned events might make it a little hard for you to digest this but before being put in the respective positions they were ordinary citizens who had been brought up along the lines of the socially accepted moral norms. What changed then? In the controversial US prison cases they were left alone with the prisoners unsupervised (intentionally of course) and given a free-hand to break their spirit in order to make them confess their supposed crimes.
Holocaust was performed by men and women possessing a firm belief in their actions and its consequences, fueled by the leadership of one supreme leader. The results were there for everyone to see.
So what do these examples imply? Is it that the evil inside us is just waiting to be tapped, constrained only by the chains of social norms and supervision? No, not really. The situation isn't all that hopeless. You see, the very same situations that gave birth to those evil tendencies also gave way to heroism, in just as ordinary people.
When everyone else around him had seemingly given up on their conscience*, a low-ranking Abu Gharib private Joe Darby stood up to what he thought was pure cruelty and blew the whistle on his own comrades. He did what anyone else should have done but didn’t.
Remember Schindler’s list? Oskar Schindler had a change of heart after seeing the Jews getting massacred by the SS soldiers and spent the last few months of the Second World War trying to save his workers and their families from an untimely end. An ex-spy turned corrupt pro-Nazi businessman, he didn’t exactly fit the profile of a savior. But he made a choice and the rest is history.
Good and bad. Evil and Heroism. They are just like the sides of a coin. But unlike what probability theory might have taught you, the results of the toss of this coin aren't random or independent. The results are decided by an individual’s choices and the events leading to it. So the next time around you find yourself in a tricky situation, make the right choice.